Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pop Goes the Weasel?

I love to find out the origin of some of our idiomatic expressions. While writing The Last Promise, I found the origin of the word deadline. The hero, Josh is a prisoner in the Andersonville prison camp during the Civil War, who escapes with his friend and crosses the deadline-

No mercy was spared on any man who crossed the poorly constructed barrier called the “deadline”, so named because guards made certain that all life stopped if you passed it. Yet both of them scaled its wooden rails and ran into the forest.

Another term is
turnpike, which appears in Loretta Roger's upcoming release, Bannon's Brides--a wonderful story about a wagon train of mail order brides. It was amazing to learn the origins of turnpikes... From the 1850s to the 1880s, Nevada had an extensive system of toll roads, also referred to as "turnpikes" because customers paid the fare, and the long lumber plank, or pike, blocking the entrance was then turned at the toll house to allow the customer access to the private road.

When I was watching a recent History Channel Special on Bootleggers, I heard one origin of the phrase "the real McCoy." I thought it had something to do with the Hatfields and the McCoys....but they said during prohibition, a gentleman named McCoy sold fine liquor in international waters. When you purchased from him it was always high quality. So, high quality bootleg, became known as "the real McCoy." However, this one has a bit of controversy according to the site here are some other possible origins.

There are several people and things that the phrase has been applied to - which came first is uncertain.

  • The real McCoy -  Whyte & MackayMcCoy is derived from Mackay, referring to Messrs. Mackay, Edinburgh, who made a brand of fine whisky from 1856 onwards and which that they promoted as 'the real MacKay' from 1870.
    This could have been derived from the branch of the MacKay family from Reay, Scotland, i.e. 'the Reay Mackay'.

    The real McCoy -  Kid McCoyAfter Kid McCoy (Norman Selby,1873-1940), American welterweight boxing champion.

    The story goes, and there are various versions of it, that a drunk challenged Selby to prove that he was McCoy and not one of the many lesser boxers trading under the same name. After being knocked to the floor the drunk rose to admit that 'Yes, that's the real McCoy'.

    The Real McCoy -  Elijah McCoyElijah McCoy, the Canadian inventor educated in Scotland, made a successful machine for lubricating engines which spawned many copies, all inferior to the original. He patented the design in 1872.

But "Pop goes the Weasel?"
I've heard this during tours of several historical sites. After yarn was made by a spinning wheel, it was wound for later use. The winder was called a weasel. Since it was hard to keep count of how many yards were on the winder, when a certain length of yarn was on the winder, a gear moved a thin piece of wood made a pop-- pop goes the weasel.

Lastly, back in the day when people came to visit, they would often stay for weeks or months, but how did you politely let your guests know it was time to leave? By making a joint roast and serving it cold. In other words, when the guests got the cold shoulder, it was time to go.

On that note I'll sign off, before I wear out my welcome,
Happy Reading and Writing!

1 comment:

Paty Jager said...

What interesting information, Mallary! I love that the "real McCoy" phrase has so many different definitions, so which one is the "Real McCoy"?